Splashing cash in new areas

WESTFIELD and the independently listed Westfield Retail Trust have indicated that consumers are still spending, but habits are changing significantly as to where the cash is spent.

Both groups reported solid earnings for the first half thanks to new developments, fixed rental charges and having the flexibility to offer shoppers what they want to buy.

This has come in the form of having the space to open flagship stores for the launch of overseas labels such as the fashion group Zara and the niche products of Smiggle.

They have also changed their jointly owned centres to provide an array of food from upmarket to food-court fare.

Although some groups have faltered, such as the highly publicised Becasse group at Westfield Sydney, the landlords have the weight in the market to revamp the space and relet it, almost overnight.

At Westfield Sydney, it is launching a new French patisserie, Laduree, known as the ''King of Macarons'', from Paris, while Moochi's frozen yoghurt from Strathfield has opened at the centre's basement level.

Having the chance to respond quickly to the changing demand of fickle shoppers gives landlords the edge over smaller tenants.

Westfield Retail Trust has displayed resilient earnings in a tough operating environment, a property trust analyst at Commonwealth Bank, David Lloyd, said.

That resilience is shown in a breakdown of where sales are being generated by the centre owners. Consumers don't want as much fashion, but they will pay to see a new movie or buy a smartphone. The landlords are responding by giving more space to those tenants.

The latest retail data for June showed the biggest sales gains in the quarter were for footwear, gym memberships and personal accessories such as smartphones. Sales were up 8.7 per cent, with spending on pharmaceutical cosmetics and toiletries up by 6.8 per cent.

Some spending was due to the cut in interest rates and other tax cuts introduced this new financial year. The chief economist at CommSec, Craig James, said the one-off federal government assistance payments allowed consumers to accelerate planned purchases, with department stores and clothing and footwear retailers the lucky recipients.

''In effect, the one-off payments have provided a short-term leg-up for businesses in a period of tough trading conditions,'' he said.

Westfield Group's results showed that overall sales were up 0.8 per cent in the six months to June.

Across the categories, fashion's moving annual turnover (MAT) was down 1.4 per cent, food retail growth moderated slightly and general retail growth deceleration was more pronounced.

Homewares were down 1.4 per cent in the generally poor housing sector, while leisure, such as smartphones and movies, were up for the six months.

The decline of department store sales revenue has continued to slow, although it was still down by 3.6 per cent. The same went for discount department stores, which were down 5.2 per cent for the half-year.

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